My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.
This week focuses on three sci-fi films from the 1990s.
JOHNNY MNEMONIC IN BLACK AND WHITE (1995)
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
I hadn’t seen JOHNNY MNEMONIC since it came out, when I was 10 or 11 years old. At the time I dismissed it but in light of all the junk we’re fed today at the cinemas, this is a great treat.
The black and white version, currently available on the Criterion Channel, enriches the experience. Seeing JOHNNY through this lens makes its noir touches more prominent, turning the film into a mix of BLADE RUNNER, ALPHAVILLE, and 90s action cinema. Reportedly influenced by LA JETEE, Robert Longo’s sci-fi film is actually superior to the direct, cluttered remake from Terry Gilliam around the same time.
The cast is a delight too. When I was a kid, there was no way to appreciate the casting of Takeshi Kitano and Henry Rollins. Hell, I didn’t even know who they were. Now, I can appreciate the eclectic ensemble, led by Keanu who has some of his finest moments as an actor in this film.
I didn’t care much for the last 20 minutes. The plot becomes unnecessarily jumbled and the moody tone is replaced by a shoot ’em up finale. However, the rest of this movie is quite special, especially in comparison to the horrid sci-fi films we’re offered today.
Watched on Criterion Channel.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
The more I read about Albert Pyun, the more it seems he could be one of the most underrated genre directors of our lifetime. Of course, appreciating his work now that he’s gone feels bittersweet but nevertheless, I’m exploring his filmography for hidden gems.
One of those is KNIGHTS, a post-apocalyptic cyborg movie from the maker of CYBORG, that has a semi-Western, semi-medieval aesthetic. Casting Kris Kristofferson as the good robot and Lance Henriksen as the baddie, Pyun puts martial arts artist Kathy Long in the lead. Between the two heavyweights, her performance suffers but doesn’t ruin the picture. After all, this isn’t the kind of movie where great acting is the focus.
Pyun’s strength is in the visuals and the action. The latter is plentiful, showcasing stunts and special effects galore. It never gets boring and actually ends making the audience want more. If I can blame Pyun for anything, it’s that he didn’t explore a cool concept in much depth but clearly he intended to make a sequel or two. It’s a damn shame he never got a chance to.
Watched on rarefilmm.com
NEON CITY (1991)
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
I love the concept of a sci-fi riff on John Ford’s STAGECOACH. In fact, this film got me thinking about all the possible futuristic versions of my favorite Westerns. The trouble is that NEON CITY, both because of its budget limitations (which I can certainly relate to) and its creative decisions doesn’t quite live up to the idea.
Michael Ironside, one of the great genre character actors, leads the ensemble in the Wayne role. However much I love Ironside, I just don’t know if he’s suited to be a leading man. The casting of this band of travelers is a mixed bag, some like Vanity doing passable work and others fading into the background. The script meanders, tries to be too complicated than it needs to be, and doesn’t focus enough on the interpersonal relationships like Ford’s film.
The budget limitations prevent NEON CITY from having great production design and even cool costumes. It’s tragic too because a much more simple execution, similar perhaps to Luc Besson’s LE DERNIER COMBAT, would have allowed this loose STAGECOACH remake to be a memorable film. As is, it remains a curious, mildly entertain sci-fi film from the 90s.
Watched on Tubi.